Trotlining for Crabs
I ’m not from around here. My childhood was essentially land-locked in the Ohio Valley, peppered with the occasional trip to some lake or river. Fried catfish, still a favorite of mine, was the extent of the fresh seafood on my adolescent plate. Years later, after moving to Maryland, older and perhaps wiser, I had visions of giant steamed crabs, mammoth rockfish, briny oysters and, well, more steamed crabs.
If you ask me, the best part about living on the Chesapeake is the bounty of fresh, local blue crabs we have from April to November. If you ask me another question, chances are I’ll find a way to just keep talking about my love of crabs. And at some point, if you haven’t wandered away, I’ll most definitely continue to tell you that the best crabs are the ones you catch yourself. Like most of life’s great meals, the satisfaction of catching and preparing blue crabs yourself adds the flavor to the overall experience.
So, here’s the thing—I’ve gathered and eaten plenty of crabs from traps, and I’ve been told of the wonders of chicken-neckin’, but one thing I’d never done (or heard of, up until a few months ago) was trotlining. Here’s the idea: tie a series of baits (salted eel, chicken or turkey necks, bull lips, menhaden…) to a long 1/8- to 3/8-inch line, using slip knots or short “snood” lines; attach 3-foot lengths of chain at either end to sink the rig to the bottom; attached marker buoys at the ends of the rig; and drop the whole thing over the side as you cruise along. Then, circle back around and start collecting your crabs. Better yet, find a local waterman to help you, and it couldn’t be easier.
This is how I came to meet Captain Frank Tuma of Down Time Charters. A Chesapeake native, Captain Frank has spent the last 50 years with his wife and family in Cape St. Claire, outside Annapolis, where he runs fishing and crabbing charters on his 29-foot C-Hawk. His knowledge of the Bay and its intricate web of tributaries, rivers, and inlets meant we didn’t have to spend much time searching before finding the right spot. As Captain Frank put it, the perfect crabbing spot is “wherever they’re biting.” And with that, we set out on the calm, early-morning waters of the Magothy River, cape-side of Gibson Island.
The key to a successful trotlining experience is patience and speed. Patience because not every snood will carry a crab to the surface, and speed because when they do, you’ve got to act fast with your net before they let go and drop back into the abyss. Good vision helps, too. I swear Captain Frank could see them coming from the bottom.
In the middle of our dance with the trotline, I stopped for a second to breathe it all in. There’s nothing like being on a boat, working the water, to remind you how magical the Bay really is. As the crabs piled up and one bushel became two, Captain Frank and I pulled up our lines and headed back to shore anticipating the feast to follow.
I’m not from around here but after spending a couple hours on Down Time, scooping crabs off the line with this seasoned captain, I felt like a local.
Make a weekend out of it: Located a block from the Severn River in the waterman’s community of Eastport, the Inn at Horn Point puts you within easy walking distance of Restaurant Row, the Annapolis Maritime Museum and downtown Annapolis.